Jacob adopts the sons of Joseph. — V.1. And it came to pass after these things that one told Joseph, the news was brought him by a special messenger, Behold, thy father is sick. This was not long after Jacob had made arrangements for the transfer of his body to Canaan for burial. And he (Joseph) took with him his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim, who were now about twenty years old; Manasseh may have been about twenty-four and Ephraim a few years younger. V.2. And one told Jacob and said, Behold, thy son Joseph cometh unto thee, also an announcement by a special messenger. And Israel strengthened himself, with the help of God he summoned all his remaining strength, and sat upon the bed; for he, as patriarch and bearer of the Messianic promise, had a final duty to perform. V.3. And Jacob said unto Joseph, God Almighty appeared unto me at Luz in the land of Canaan, at Bethel, where he received two special revelations, chap. 28, 13. 19; 35, 6. 9, and blessed me, v.4. and said unto me, Behold, I will make thee fruitful and multiply thee; and I will make of thee a multitude of people, and will give this land to thy seed after thee for an everlasting possession. Thus both the patriarchal and the Messianic blessing had been given to Jacob, to be fulfilled in his descendants. V.5. And now thy two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, which were born unto thee in the land of Egypt before I came unto thee into Egypt, are mine; as Reuben and Simeon they shall be mine. It is significant that in this formal statement of adoption the name of Ephraim is set before that of Manasseh, the birthright thus being changed. The divine blessing of promise, of which Jacob was the bearer, empowered him to adopt these two grandsons and to give them equal rights with his oldest sons, designate their descendants as two fully recognized tribes among the children of Israel. V.6. And thy issue which thou begettest after them shall be thine, and shall be called after the name of their brethren in their inheritance; they should not form a third tribe, but should be included in those of Ephraim and Manasseh, though their names were entered in the genealogical tables, Num. 26, 28–37; 1 Chron. 7, 14–19, Through this adoption of his oldest sons on the part of Jacob, Joseph was given the right of the firstborn in his inheritance, 1 Chron. 5, 2. By this disposition of the inheritance Jacob incidentally honored Rachel. V.7. And as for me, when I came from Padan, that is, Mesopotamia, Rachel died by me, she died by his side, sharing with him the toil and the hardships of the pilgrim life, in the land of Canaan in the way, while they were on the journey, when yet there was but a little way to come unto Ephrath; and I buried her there in the way of Ephrath; the same is Bethlehem, as the author adds by way of explanation. There was some compensation to Jacob in the fact that at least three tribes among the children of Israel would trace their ancestry to Rachel, his beloved wife. Thus her remembrance was kept sacred in Israel.
The blessing upon Ephraim and Manasseh. — V.8. And Israel beheld Joseph’s sons and said, Who are these? The eyes of Jacob being dim with age, he had not noticed the presence of the two young men till now. V.9. And Joseph said unto his father, They are my sons, whom God hath given me in this place. And he said, Bring them, I pray thee, unto me, and I will bless them. Till now they had stood at a respectful distance, as becomes young people in the presence of their elders. V.10. Now the eyes of Israel were dim for age, so that he could not see, just as his father’s had been at the time he blessed his sons. And he brought them near unto him; and he kissed them and embraced them. The grandfather had probably not seen the boys for years, and was overjoyed at the meeting. V.11. And Israel said unto Joseph, I had not thought to see thy face, he had not even dared to suppose that so much joy would be his; and, lo, God hath showed me also thy seed, these children. where Jacob had held them in a fond embrace, and he bowed himself with his face to the earth, awaiting the blessing which his father was ready to give. V.13. And Joseph took them both, Ephraim in his right hand toward Israel’s left hand, and Manasseh in his left hand toward Israel’s right hand, and brought them near unto him, his idea being that Jacob would thus naturally place his right hand on the head of Manasseh as he blessed the boys. V.14. And Israel stretched out his right hand, and laid it upon Ephraim’s head, who was the younger, and his left hand upon Manasseh’s head, guiding his hands wittingly; for Manasseh was the first-born; he purposely placed the younger before the older, although this made it necessary for him to cross his arms. V.15. And he blessed Joseph and said, God, before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac did walk, the God which fed me all my life long unto this day, v.16. the Angel, the Son of God, who had assisted his fathers as well as himself at various times, which redeemed me from all evil, both of body and of soul, bless the lads; and let my name be named on them and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac; in them the dignity and the faith of the patriarchs was to be continued, in them God’s gifts of grace and salvation should be renewed, even as they had been received by their fathers; and let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth, their increase should be as great as that of the fishes in the sea. Thus did Jacob confess his heartfelt gratitude to God, both as his Shepherd and as his Savior, and the threefold mention of God may well have reference to the Trinity. V.17. And when Joseph saw that his father laid his right hand upon the head of Ephraim, it displeased him, for the laying on of hands was a symbol of the transfer of spiritual gifts, and the right hand typified the greater share of these blessings; and he held up his father’s hand, he gently took hold of it and supported it, to remove it from Ephraim’s head unto Manasseh’s head, thinking that his father had made a mistake without being conscious of it. V.18. And Joseph said unto his father, Not so, my father; for this is the first-born; put thy right hand upon his head. V.19. And his father refused and said, I know it, my son, I know it, he was well aware of the fact that Manasseh, and not Ephraim, was the firstborn: he (Manasseh) also shall become a people, and he also shall be great; but truly his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his seed shall become a multitude of nations. It was not merely an old man’s whim or caprice, but Jacob was acting with prophetic insight and wisdom and transmitting the blessing of the Lord. As a matter of fact, the tribe of Ephraim did pass the tribe of Manasseh in numbers and power, finally assuming the leadership of the northern tribes. V.20. And he blessed them that day, saying, In thee (Joseph) shall Israel bless, saying, God make thee as Ephraim and as Manasseh; and he set Ephraim before Manasseh. So great and unusual was the blessing of God upon these two tribes that it became proverbial among the children of Israel and was used in special formulas of well-wishing. V.21. And Israel said unto Joseph, Behold, I die; he knew that his end was now very near; but God shall be with you, and bring you again unto the land of your fathers. He thus passed on the prophetic promise which he had received at Beersheba, chap. 46, 4. V.22. Moreover, I have given to thee one portion above thy brethren, a strip of land in Canaan, which I took out of the hand of the Amorite with my sword and with my bow. This is also a prophetic saying and refers to the time when the children of Israel conquered the Land of Promise and drove out the Canaanites before them, at which time Joseph obtained the land which contained Shechem, where also his bones were laid to rest. Thus did Jacob give to his son Joseph the field at Shechem, John 4, 5. And it was the Lord who, through Jacob, fixed the destiny of these descendants, just as He governs the entire universe according to His will.